Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Monday, March 19, 2018

How Important Is What's Trending On Twitter?

'Trends are determined by an algorithm and are tailored for you based on who you follow, your interests, and your location.  
This algorithm identifies topics that are popular now, rather than topics that have been popular for a while or on a daily basis, to help you discover the hottest emerging topics of discussion on Twitter.’ 

This is how Twitter explains the algorithm for trending tweets on its Help Centre Page. But just how important is what’s trending?

The trending tweets are a classic example of Agenda Setting Theory. This states that the news influences the perceived importance of certain issues by emphasising them (McCombs & Shaw, 1993). This has the potential to make some issues seem more important in comparison to other issues, because they are made readily-available in our minds (Wanta, Golan & Lee, 2004).

In a study of the 1996 Presidential Election it was found that increased media attention to political figures is correlated with the public viewing them as more important and forming stronger attitudes about them (Kiousis & McCombs, 2004).

This can be applied to today’s American president, Donald Trump or ‘The Un-American President’ as he is trending as today. Trump’s presence on the trending page is likely to make him be considered more important by Twitter users, who will likely form stronger attitudes towards him.

The range of opinions also affects the relationship between media coverage and public salience. 

Some people are calling Trump the “Un-American President” whilst others are calling Obama the “Un-American President.” It is safe to say that Twitter is providing a broad range of opinions, which readers can use to form their own opinions about Donald Trump.

Kiousis, S., & McCombs, M. (2004). Agenda-Setting Effects and Attitude Strength: Political Figures during the 1996 Presidential Election. Communicaiton Research, 31(1), 36-57.

McCombs, M. E., & Shaw, D. L. (1993). The Evolution of Agenda‐Setting Research: Twenty‐Five Years in the Marketplace of Ideas. Journal of Communication, 43, 58-67.

Wanta, W., Golan, G. & Lee, C. (2004). Agenda Setting and International News: Media Influence on Public Perceptions of Foreign Nations. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 81(2), 364-377.

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